Kelley, Bender combine to blank Eskomos 6-0
When the Cloquet-Carlton girls soccer team is out for revenge, it's best not to get in their way.
In the third game of the regular season on Aug. 29, Esko edged Cloquet-Carlton 1-0 in Esko to drop the Lumberjacks to 2-1 on the season. Twelve consecutive wins later for Cloquet-Carlton, the teams met again in Cloquet on Thursday, Oct. 5, in the last match of the regular season.
Kendra Kelley scored four goals in the first half of the rematch and Kiana Bender added two more goals as the Lumberjacks overwhelmed the Eskomos (6-6-3) by a 6-0 score. Cloquet-Carlton put 24 shots on frame against Esko in the 80-minute match.
Cloquet-Carlton (15-1-0) is expected to earn the top seed for the upcoming section tournament.
"I thought we played fantastic against Esko," Cloquet-Carlton coach Dustin Randall said. "We didn't play real well against Proctor the preceding Tuesday (a 4-2 win). "We were ready to bounce back — and having been beaten by Esko for their only loss, the kids were ready for a little revenge. We came out sharp and it was probably our most complete performance of the year."
Kelley scored twice in the first eight minutes, tallying in the third and eighth minutes of the match, and had her hat trick completed in 19 minutes.
"We possessed the ball really well, and the kids were sharp in their passing," Randall said. "They were making quick decisions and making the right choices, handling pressure and moving the ball away from that pressure. They finished their chances and played eighty minutes."
Esko coach Nicole Peterson knew her team was steamrolled by Cloquet-Carlton, but took positives from the setback.
"[Cloquet-Carlton was] strong, accurate and their first four shots went into our net," she said. "They were relentless, but I am very proud, as a coach, of the way our girls responded when they were down six goals."
Esko has gone 1-5-3 since a 5-1-0 start, but Peterson says her team is ready for the playoffs.
"Absolutely," she said. "I think in some ways we're more ready than when we were winning. The game in Cloquet made us ready in a whole different way. I feel like competing hard like we did gave us a moral victory in a bad defeat. But going into playoffs that's exactly the attitude you need and I'm proud of our girls for achieving it together.
"When we played them the first time, our defense won. When we played them the second time, their offense won," Peterson added. "And when Kendra Kelley wins, she will make you pay."
For Randall, all the success hasn't distracted from work which still needs to be done.
"There are still improvements to be made," he said. "We had great focus against Esko, and we need to carry that into the playoffs."
But it's hard to argue that Cloquet-Carlton isn't the section favorite.
"I like our chances, I like where we're at," Randall said. "We had a strong team last year and got upset in the sections, though, so we have to stay focused. We know how deep this section is. There are six or seven teams who can knock anyone out, so we're trying not to get ahead of ourselves."
Cloquet-Carlton has been tested in a variety of ways this season.
"Colds, injuries, lots of things," Randall said. "We had a stretch where we had five games in eight days, so a bad cold meant you could miss a third of the season."
It has been a special season for soccer in Cloquet, with Archie Clark's boys team giving the schools a combined record of 29-2-1 heading into the playoffs.
"It is pretty cool that they are having such a great season, too," Randall said. "I pay attention to the results but some of the boys in school have interacted with the girls players and there have been pranks and joking between the teams. It's been fun."
The fun ends Thursday when the playoffs start.
"We don't get carried away, but we have as good a chance as anyone to get through the sections," Randall said. "We should expect to see some upsets. We're cautiously optimistic, we know what we can do, we know who we are and we know our weaknesses. Fall back on hard work."
Randall plans to use the Proctor match as motivation for his team.
"We looked ahead to Esko at Proctor and at this stage of the season you can't do that," he said. "We weren't ready to take care of the job at hand. We need to respect the opponent and do what we need to do. I feel good about our group but they don't hand out section titles. You have to earn them."